Alcohol Ranks Most Harmful Drug, According to New Scale

A new study by a former British government drug advisor and other researchers shows that alcohol is the most harmful drug, even more dangerous than crack cocaine and heroin. Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London and colleagues rated 20 different drugs on a scale that considers the different potential harms of each drug.

The scale ranges from zero (no harm) to 100 (greatest possible harm), and is weighted so that a drug that scores 50 is half as harmful as a drug that scores 100. There are five subgroups representing physical, social, and psychological harms.

The scale includes ten harms to an individual and six harms to society, both in the United Kingdom and overseas. The self-harms are drug-specific mortality, drug-related mortality, drug-specific damage, drug-related damage, dependence, drug-specific impairment of mental function, drug-related impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles, loss of relationships, and injury. The harms to society are crime, environmental damage, family conflict, international damage, economic cost, and decline in community cohesion.

The scale showed that alcohol was the most harmful drug, scoring 72 points, followed by heroin at 55 points and crack cocaine at 54 points. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth (33) were the most harmful to individuals, while alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The rest of the list was as follows: cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (15), ketamine (15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), butane (10), khat (9), Ecstasy (9), anabolic steroids (9), The lowest scores belonged to LSD (7), buprenorphine (6), and mushrooms (5).

This means that alcohol is almost three times as harmful as cocaine or tobacco, and more than five times more harmful than mephedrone, which was a “legal” high in the United Kingdom until it was made a class B controlled drug in April 2010.

The authors said that their work echoes findings of previous work by Nutt and colleagues and other research such as that by the Dutch addiction medicine expert group. However, their findings don’t correlate with the current UK drug classification system, which is based on 1971’s Misuse of Drugs Act. Nutt says that because their work supports previous research, their study suggests that the current drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm.

They added that targeting the harm of alcohol is important for public health. Jan van Amsterdam of the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and Wim van den Brink of the Amsterdam Institute for Addiction research noted that it was interesting to note that the two legal drugs that were assessed (alcohol and tobacco) scored higher than illegal drugs, showing the legal substances cause at least as much harm as illegal substances.

Sources: Web MD, Tim Locke, Experts: Alcohol More Harmful Than Crack or Heroin, November 1, 2010

Science Daily, Alcohol 'Most Harmful Drug', According to Multicriteria Analysis, November 1, 2010

Posted on November 1st, 2010
Posted in Abused Drugs

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